Rice has recently demonstrated a commitment to increasing its athletic fan base. Specifically, they’ve been focusing on increasing student support and turnout at games, and I commend them for that. In fact, the athletic department said they spend $20,000 each year on marketing toward students. But is that investment worth it?
On the surface, it is. According to the athletic department, this increase in marketing has led to a dramatic increase in student interest. This year, men’s basketball (which has arguably generated the most buzz around campus this year despite a sub-.500 team) has seen an increase in attendance of 25 percent over last season. Additionally, the team had the highest student turnout in recent history against Oregon State University, when over 500 students attended to root on the underdog Owls, in a game that turned out to be a thriller.
I am, however, skeptical. The athletic department announced they spent $5,000 this year on the Rice Rewards app. The app is designed to reward students who attend games with free gifts, another loss of revenue. The idea makes sense, but the app is horrendously underused and I have never personally seen it as motivation to attend a game.
Paying to use an image of Shia Labeouf to advertise a basketball game? Complete waste of money. I am not sure where that idea came from, and I would be shocked if that decision turns out to pay off in the long run.
The secret to increase student turnout and support really is no secret. It’s been a tried-and-tested technique on campuses across the country, and has been shown to work here as well. If you want students to care about sports, the solution is simple: Win.
Take Duke University, for example. Duke is a school of similar academic rigor as Rice, but their basketball fans show up each and every game to a sold-out crowd. Why? Because the team wins. They invested in basketball in the 1980s, and the results have come. It’s not that all Rice students don’t care, we just want to see our team win, plain and simple.
Rice is taking the right steps in that direction. We’ve shown a commitment to improving basketball, and specifically men’s basketball. With the hire of Head Coach Mike Rhoades and one of the most talented freshman classes the team has ever seen, excitement is growing around the program. People aren’t going to the games because of the athletic department’s spending; they are going because the team is fun to watch. Give it a few years when the team is ready to compete for a conference title, then fans will really show up.
Recently, Rice has done a great job trying to market itself to top recruits, who will be key players in winning. We’ve invested in coaches and facilities. The new facility in the north end zone of Rice Stadium, for example, will certainly help with recruiting. This will in turn help the team win, which will put butts in seats.
The Fifth Quarter is a column written by Evan Neustater. The opinions expressed in the column are solely his own.